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Community Spotlight - Virginia Rural Health Association

Pride Festivals provide a vital point of connection between the local LGBTQIA+ community and local organizations and businesses. In keeping that spirit alive, our Community Spotlight feature will provide a deeper look at these organizations and the important work they do in our communities.

These organizations will be a part of our 2022 Pride festivities as well-- so be sure to learn more and plan to see them at our Pride festival next year!

Virginia Rural Health Association (VRHA) is a nonprofit organization working to improve the health of rural Virginians through education, advocacy, and fostering cooperative partnerships.

I asked VRHA Executive Director Beth O’Connor to give us a closer look at the work they are doing in our rural communities, and how they are addressing LGBTQ+ health care needs.

Tell us about your organization!

"The Virginia Rural Health Association works to improve health and healthcare for the 2.5 million people who call rural Virginia their home. We achieve that through providing information, education, and advocacy on a variety of topics that relate to rural health."

How did you personally get involved in this work?

"I grew up in rural America, so the mission of VRHA combines my passion for advocacy work with my rural background. As an organization, the VRHA board realized that the LGBTQIA+ population wasn’t being fully included in our work and we took steps to address that gap. I attended a seminar on LGBTQIA+ health inequities and realized that almost all of the information that was being presented focused on what was going on in Richmond, the Hampton Roads, and Northern Virginia. I started asking who was addressing rural issues on a statewide level and couldn’t find an answer. So VRHA decided to be the answer."

Our theme for Pride this year was #takeupspace. What does that mean to you, or how does your organization #takeupspace?

"VRHA recently launched our “Pride of Rural Virginia” initiative. This is an effort to bring together rural healthcare providers and rural LGBTQIA+ community members together to talk about the issues and create tools and resources to make long-term improvements. One of my favorite moments was when a transgender woman was talking about the difficulty of having to travel a long distance to receive Hormone Replacement Therapy. Within 10 minutes, she was provided information about 2 different options closer to home. Going forward, we are planning to have an online portal which will allow LGBTQIA+ folks to find providers that have been recommended by their peers as being affirmative."

Photo from Pride of Rural Virginia Community Chat: Pulaski County: August 28th

Photo from Pride of Rural Virginia Community Chat: Danville/Pittsylvania County: July 10th

Why did your organization want to be a part of Staunton Pride? What is most important for the LGBTQIA+ community to know about your work or resources?

"We recognize that we are new to the LGBTQIA+ community and that the expertise lies with those who have been doing this work for many years. Supporting local Pride organizations is an important part of making community connections and assuring that we are honoring the work that has already been accomplished.

VRHA has our own podcast, the Rural Health Voice. We have been fortunate to have several guests on our program talk about rural LGBTQIA+ health inequities. You can find the podcast with any podcast app or on our website at"

VRHA will be hosting their virtual 2021 Rural Health Voice conference in November and will be a mixed format including plenary sessions, interactive discussions and student presentations on topics including vaccine hesitancy, recovery housing for substance use disorders, food insecurity and nutrition, and health equity.

Beth O’Connor will be leading a plenary session on the Pride of Rural Virginia initiative. Visit the conference website to register, and to see the full agenda and speaker list.

Check out VRHA's website to learn more about their programs, upcoming events, as well as additional resources.

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